Television is rather a frightening business. But I get all the relaxation I want from my collection of model soldiers.
Peter Cushing

Friday, 28 November 2014

Here be Dragons

This is part of a continuing strand of worldbuilding blogs for my nascent D&D 5th Edition game. If you're only here for the wargames, modelling and painting, feel free to skip on to the next entry. 

So, but considering money and British history, I have some details roughed out for how my world is going to work on a social level. But the big question remains - what about the dragons? This is really shorthand for how does magic effect the world.

Although, to be fair, dragons are pretty cool on their own.

On a metaphyscial level, D&D has always operated on the assumption that the world operates on normal physical laws with magic sort of laid over the top; it's easy to think of it in computer terms as being a back door that allows casters to hack the code of reality and do things that normal users can't. This is made more or less explicit in a little boxout in the 5th Edition PHB. I'm happy to work with this - after all, I want these new players to get a proper D&D experience.

So, how does magic work here? I'll cover this in a few sections.

Dragons

Ok, they're too big to ignore and they are pretty iconic, so we need to deal with them. I'm happy to have them as a sentient race - after all, I have a dragonborn cleric in the party. So let's deal with them on that basis. We know that we've got our Roman analogue elves in the backstory and they have a slave-based economy - which certainly fits with Fitz-Badger's comment under the last post about the Mirkwood influence; I can certainly imagine Thranduil putting the Dwarves to work. So that's how Dragons got here - dragon slaves were used as transport and heavy cavalry in much the same way that Claudius threw a few elephants into the British campaign. I also live the visual of ruined 'docking towers' dotting the landscape where the sky-triremes were once berthed as part of the Empire's trade routes. 

When the Fall came, some of them were left behind; and through some means that we can explore at another juncture this led to some form of interbreeding - probably some sort of cult, it usually is - which results in the dragonborn. There was probably a small number of dragons left behind which makes them rare and interesting. I'll fiddle around the edges of this concept to come up with a reason for wyverns - after all, what is my Wales analogue without a red dragon? - but this gives me a way to have them around but without taking the world too far from our basis.

Halflings and Gnomes

Yeah, I'm going to go with the Jewish Mediaeval model here. Not the purges and the discrimination - although that might produce some good story seeds if I decide to play that card - but by having them as dispersed populations without a homeland. They'll need some sort of service or goods that they can provide, analogous to the moneylending of the middle ages, but I might leave that until I've got a handle on religion. Whatever it is will be cultural rather than race-based as there's nothing in the PHB that jumps out at me as a big enough hook.

Magic Users

Yeah, this is the big one. I'll deal with clerics in another post as that requires me to get to grips with religion which is a bigger question than we have here.

The Wizard player has already mentioned in play the 'Head of [his] Order' so I know there must be more than one order of casters. Normally I could flail around for a while with that but the nice thing about working with D&D is that rules presuppose certain things about every setting. To whit:


  • There are three types of arcane Spellcaster: Wizards, Sorcerers and Warlocks. So that's my orders sorted out.
  • Magic items can be created - interestingly, in 5th, non-magic users can create certain potions if they are proficient in the apothecary skill. I see no reason why non-spellcasting smiths couldn't make magical weapons or armour - after all, if it's good enough for Mime in the Ring Cycle, it's good enough for me. 
  • Teleportation Gates can be made permanent quite simply. This has, I think, a far reaching effect on the game world, unless it is strictly controlled. Thankfully, by skipping forward slightly in my pillaging from history, I can quite easily put in a method of social control for such power - I'll put it under the control of a Guild. I can't take full credit for this idea - after all, it's pretty much the same solution Frank Herbert came up with. 

So, for my world, I can quite comfortably add the following:

The Guild of Journeymen: controls teleportation gates in ever major city. Only Guild casters know the sigil keys for these gates and these are the main trade routes for major merchants. This had a brilliant knock on effect - it leaves the roads and rivers as the only routes affordable by minor merchants and so is ripe for smuggling and wilderness adventures. After all, if most of the King's taxes are collected at the Journeymen's Gate, he has no need to pay for expensive patrols on the roads out and about the place.

There will be three main orders of casters; the Witan (Wizards), with the name stolen from the Old English for 'to know'; the Trowe/Faithbreakers (the first being what they call themselves, as in true to Things with which they have made pacts, and the latter being the literal translation of Warlock); and finally the Scinlaecan (middle english for Sorceress). For this to work practically, we're looking at a Guild-type system again, a closed shop of magic users in which unapproved magic is frowned upon. I imagine some people employed by the Orders as witchfinders, whose job it is to find magic users and bring them 'in from the cold'. I can't imagine these being anything other than figures of fear, sweeping into villages and hauling away talented children. I've always preferred innocuous names for bad guys, so lets call them Gatherers.

Horror

I'm actually incapable of running a game without some horror elements. As I alluded to in the last post, I ran Call of Cthulhu for more years than I can comfortably count on a weekly basis. So, where can I slip in some horror? Well, we'll obviously have some Grendel-influenced trolls and other beasties in the fens and moors, but that's just a case of presentation rather than content. It's not Lovecraftian by any means.

Baked into the rules system of the Warlock is the idea of the pact with an Other - be it a fiend, an Old One or the Fey. But what is all magic was simply accessing the powers of unknowable Things From Before Time? What if, every time magic was used, the fabric of our current reality which keeps them at bay was weakened? And that pretty much gives me a cosmological reason to start introducing Arboleths, Beholders and Ithilids into the milieu. At some point, our Wizard will have to realise that every piffly little Magic Missile he casts brings the destruction of the entire world one step closer, until he realises that he has almost unlimited power but is too afraid to use it... And that's Lovecraftian horror.

That's pretty much it for the moment - the next couple of posts will be miniatures based while I wait for the next game session. By seeing how the characters play I'll gain a bit more cultural information about their races and classes.

As aways, let me know in the comments what you think and I'll nick the best ideas.

4 comments:

  1. These three posts have been very interesting to read. I've never roleplayed myself, nor really gotten involved in too much fantasy gaming, so all this information you've posted is fascinating to the uninitiated. Me.

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    1. Glad you're enjoying my little detour :)

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  2. It's interesting to read about your thought processes, real world historical analogs, other influences, such as Lovecraft, etc. The idea of dragons being somewhat analogous to elephants of the Roman era is cool. Being sentient creatures might some of them be wanting to try to return to their homelands? While others may be happy in their "new world".

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    1. I find myself wondering if the elves would have gone so far as to clip some of the dragons' wings in order to use them as land based seige engines....

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